He took me to Momofuku last night but he has texted me again, asking to meet this evening, he has friends in town, they’ll adore me, please come.
"He’s fucking clingy," Jonas says, skeptically, ashing his cigarette into an empty beer can. We are on the floor of Fallon’s East Village apartment, tenth-between-a-and-first, which I’m house-sitting for the Christmas break. "You met him what, four days ago? Who goes on three dates in four days?"
I had plans to go to the movies with Jonas, can u do this weekend instead, I text him back.
bring him too then, bisous
I show Jonas and he shrugs. “As long as he’s paying.”
We meet them at a restaurant in the nebulous area between Soho and Nolita, a low lit hallway with tin ceilings and vintage maps on the walls. X and his friends are already seated. They are all speaking in French. His friend is an artist, with a rugged face (sunken eyes, hawk nose, strong jaw) covered in blonde stubble, wearing a well-tailored blazer and APC jeans. His parents own a number of galleries in Paris, I am told, and vineyards in both California and the South of France.
His girlfriend is the now-fashionable byproduct of French colonialism: she is half French, part Vietnamese, part Moroccan. She has poreless skin and wide set amber eyes, Jane Birkin bangs, impossible cheekbones. She is a model, this Véronique with the R hidden deep in the back of her throat. She has a well-known makeup campaign right now. From billboards, this woman’s face has sold me the cheap lipstick now buried in the dusty bottom of my New Museum tote bag with flakes of tobacco and crumpled Duane Reade receipts. She is wearing an oversized men’s button down, open to almost reveal a black cotton bra, and slim jeans with Chanel flats. She is willowy and graceful, as if her actions are controlled from somewhere else, planned in advance, choreographed.
I am wearing greying Cheap Monday jeans and combat boots and a thrifted leather jacket. My boyishly short hair hasn’t been washed in days. Jonas is in a pair of shredded jeans and a band teeshirt and a canvas bomber, his hands sullenly in his pockets. I burn with self-consciousness but X gets up from the table to kiss me in a way you shouldn’t in public and then introduces me to the couple, this is Annie, my Anastasija, holds me in front of him with his hands around my upper arms, proffers me up as a gift.
They are seated at a rectangular table. I sidle in next to the girlfriend and our men sit across from us. Jonas sits at the head of the table, somewhere in between. Véronique is impossibly nice to me, speaking in her low breathy voice, complimenting my perfume (“Dior Addict, oui?”) and placing her well manicured hand lightly on my forearm when she laughs at something the men say. She is two years older than me and she understands something I do not. We are the girls: they are the men and we are the girls. Jonas is the mediator, for now, while I learn the ropes.
Jonas’ film degree and insouciant snobbery come to his advantage. He and the French artist argue about Truffaut while X punctuates with witty asides and Veronique laughs musically. I am not asked what I do for a living, because these people do not make that sort of conversation. The friendly Italian who owns the restaurant brings us more wine, and then a round of citrusy vanilla-scented shots with a blueberry at the bottom of the glass. Véronique laughs without parting her teeth, her curtain of black hair quivering around her. I grin like the Cheshire Cat. Leather-scented scotch with one oversized ice cube per glass arrives for the three men. Véronique and I are served another glass of Bordeaux.
"Dessert?" asks the Italian, and Véronique and I vigorously shake our heads no. Before we can say anything a round of sweets has appeared: a lemon tart with raspberry syrup and pistachios, tiny molten lava cakes with gianduja gelato, sea-salted caramel bites, espresso with amaretto. I try to mimic the cautious motions she makes, how slowly she savors the tiniest bites, how she puts the spoon down without making a sound. I feel clumsy and American. I feel like a lump of clay unformed.
"So is this fool your boyfriend?" asks the Italian, slapping X on the back. I don’t know what to say so I smile, foolishly, too wide. "He’s a good man," says the Italian. I smile again, weakly. "Bella, Xaví,” he says to X, and then he turns to me and says, with a wink, that I am too pretty for this old troll.
The French girlfriend leans lightly on my arm again, a little heavier now with the weight of the alcohol, laughing again. "We are too pretty for both of you,” she teases them, as they take out their wallets and begin to peel off bills. “Right, Annika?” She turns back to me, grinning. We are intimate now, that she has given me a nickname, a foreign one, a sophisticated one. I am in on the secret. I am part of the club now, I am one of the girls. I am this half of the table, I am paid for. I have signed a contract that I have not yet seen.